The History of Electricity and Magnetism – A complete Guide

The History of Electricity and Magnetism – A Complete Guide



Electricity is intrinsically linked to magnetism. Without electricity, magnetism would not exist and vice versa. Inventors, Engineers, Physicians, ad Philosophers have contributed to the history of electricity and magnetism and our understanding both of them. The origin of electricity and magnetism goes back to the Greek Antiquity. Ancient measures are used to understand atmospheric electricity and understanding electromagnetic theory. Throughout the 18th to 19th century, the scientific understanding or electromagnetic nature has grew with the help of researchers such as Maxwell, Faraday, Ampere, and Coulomb.

The Ancient

William Gilbert (1540-1603) He is known as “the Galileo of Magnetism”. He is the first to study magnetism. Gilbert is known for his published De Magnete and concluded that each magnet has two poles.
Charles Francois du Fay (1698-1739) He discovered that if two objects are rubbed together, it can produce types of electric charge.
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) He invented the lightning rod and proposed the one fluid theory.
Charles August Coulomb (1763-1806) The torsion balance is invented by Coulomb. He studied electrostatically charged objects and showed that force between the two charges are proportional to the charge.
Alessandro Volta (1745-1827) He invented the battery using layers of copper and zinc.
Hans Christian Oersted (1777-1851) He is a Danish physicist who demonstrated that deflection of a magnet aligned parallel to a wire. He also showed a moving charges produce constant magnetic fields.
Michael Faraday Faraday successfully shown that magnetism can produce electricity. He also discovered a moving magnet includes an electric current.
Maxwell (1831-1879) Maxwell was able to achieve a synthesis of all magnetism and electrically observed data in his four equations.

Classical and Ancient Electromagnetism History

The earliest civilization has already a knowledge about static electricity. However, it was often confused with magnetism without a theory to describe its characteristics and behaviour. People is already aware with the electricity effects before the electromagnetism knowledge exists. Manifestation of electricity such as lighting were known in the ancient times but does not understood its phenomena.

For example, the ancient Egyptians are aware that electric fish interacting with shock. There were also report of electrostatic phenomena from Arabic and Roman physicians or naturalist. On the other hand, magnetic attraction is accounted by Thales and Aristotle.

Classical and Ancient Electromagnetism History
Electromagnetism Discovery

Electromagnetism Discovery

In the early 17th century, William Gilbert has experimented with electricity to improve maritime navigation by using a magnetic compass. There are also experiments conducted by Benjamin Franklin to provide better understanding of magnetism and electricity relationship. In the 1800s, the most advanced understanding between the relationship of magnetism and electricity came with the Danish Scientist  Hans Christian Oersted.

He discovered that the electric wire can move a compass needle. He provided an accurate theory that electricity is necessary for creating a magnetic field. Joseph Henry and Michael Faraday also discovered the electromagnetic induction principle that electric current can be generated through exposing a metal wire or other conductor to a constantly changing magnetic fields.

Timeline to Highlight the Electricity and Magnetism History Around the Globe

600 BC The Greek philosophers described the natural ferrite stones or lodestones’ magnetic properties. Thales found out that when an amber is rubbed with a silk, it becomes electrically charged and attract other objects.


1175 An English monk named Alexander Neckam described the working principle of a compass.


1269 Detailed Description of Compass.

A compass with pivot point and floating compass are described by a French Crusader Petrus Peregrinus de Marincourt.


1600 An English scientist and physician William Gilbert first describe electricity and researched about the lodestone’s properties. He first use different terms such as electric attraction, magnetic pole, and electric force. All his findings are written in his published book entitled De Magnete.
1660 The observed repulsion and attraction and electric force can be transmitted through a vacuum is discovered by an Irish physicist, chemist, and philosopher Robert Boyle.
1675 The electrical charges non-conductors and conductors are distinguished by chemist and dryer Englishman Stephen Gray.
1729 Stephen Gray describes that the electrified body’s power can be passed to another by connecting them.
1734 Electrical Repulsion and Attraction is discovered by Charles Francois de Cisternay du Fay
1740 It is the time when first commercial magnets are used. Artificial magnets are produced by Gowen Knight to be used for terrestrial navigators and scientific investigators.
1745 The simplest and earliest form of electric capacitor is the Leyden jar. It is invented in 1745 by Pieter Van Musschenbroek, a Dutch physicist.
1747 Benjamin Franklin improved William Gilbert’s electric charge discovery. He states that the electric charge exists through repulsive force, attractive force, and two types of electric forces.
1750 The first book on manufacturing magnets was published by John Mitchell.
1767 The relationship between two electrical forces are accurately translated into quantitative and numerical by Joseph Priestly.
1780 In 1780, Italian scientist Luigi Galvani has culminated the voltage concept and battery invention.
1972 – 1800 The new kind of electricity such as voltaic cell and electrochemistry was discovered by Alessandro Volta.
1809 An English inventor and chemist Humphry Davy developed the first electric lamp.
1820 The relationship between magnetism and electricity is confirmed by Andre-Marie Ampere and Hans Christian Oersted. Hans Christian Oersted accidentally discovered that the electric current moves a compass needle.
1821 The most influential scientist named Michael Faraday discovered the electro-magnetic rotation principle and later becomes the key to electric motor development.
1822 Baron Joseph published his methods of analysing waves that tackles about flow of heat.
1826 The relationship between current, resistance, voltage, and power is defined by mathematician and physicist George Ohms.
1830 Joseph Henry discovered that if magnetism change, it can make a current flow.
1831 Michael Faraday has developed an induction ring to prove his theory that electricity can be induced by electromagnetic field changes. He conducted experiments to provide better understanding of electrical motors and transformers.
1832 Hippolyte Pixii, a French instrument-maker built the first electrical generator called magneto to be used for producing periodic pulses of alternating current.
1834 The electric motor is invented by American blacksmith and inventor Thomas Davenport. His development of electric motor is widely used in most appliances today.
1836 An improved electric cell that can supply even current during continuous application is proposed by John Daniell
1860 J.C Maxwell, a Scottish theoretical physicist, published his mathematical theory of electromagnetic fields. A new era of physics is created when Maxwell unified light, electricity, and magnetism.
1876 The open coil dynamo or generator is invented by Charles Brush. His invention produces steady electricity current.

The Discovery of Electromagnetic Induction – Opens Up a Wide Range of Electricity Applications

The Discovery of Electromagnetic Induction

With the discovery of electromagnetic induction, the generation of steady current becomes possible. Additional to that, advanced battery technology also contributes to a more long-term and efficient electricity storage. Aside from that, other advantages of electromagnetic induction discovery are the following:

  • Communication through commercial telegraph
  • Electronic communication
  • Wireless telegraph
  • Radio
  • Completely revolutionized human communication


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